Understanding food security and land grabs

Gregory Myers, land tenure and property rights division chief at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Photo by: USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Portal

Recently, there has been a lot of media coverage of land grabs and the plight of smallholder farmers in Africa and other parts of the developing world who lost access to land when big companies or other — often foreign — investors purchase large swaths of it from governments or communal leaders.

Gregory Myers, division chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s land tenure and property rights division, argues that, done right, such large-scale land acquisitions can boost development.

Are all large-scale land acquisitions by large investors bad for smallholder farmers in developing countries?

Just recently, an article in the Journal of Peasant Studies argued that it is a disservice to make broad statements about land grabbing and that globally, we need a better methodology for capturing data on land that has been acquired. Even with accurate data, we believe that in order to lift the next one billion out of poverty, we cannot rely on public resources alone, and as such, must leverage responsible investment by the private sector. When property rights systems are strong, large investments can be done in ways that benefit smallholder farmers.

When land transactions happen in non-transparent ways, how can one determine what happened and who was impacted?

Even the most well intentioned company or government that wants to do the right thing does not always have the right information. It is an issue of having a lot more accurate information on all sides so that there are more good decisions and fewer bad ones.

How do large-scale land acquisitions affect food security?

Everyone agrees that more investment will be needed to ensure that all people achieve food security.

When governments recognize the rights of occupants and users of the land, communities are empowered to make their own decisions about whether to engage with investors and — if so — to negotiate solutions that allow for food security and nutrition objectives to be achieved.

Want to know more? Check out Land Matters, a new campaign to showcase innovative solutions in the areas of food security, economic development, conservation and more.

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About the author

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    Deborah Horan

    Deborah Horan is an award-winning journalist who has written about international development issues for the World Bank's Human Development Network and for the International Finance Corp.'s Sustainable Business Advisory about health, HIV/AIDS, early childhood development, education and the promotion of small business through business management training. Deb has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq war, among other international assignments.